Thanks to streaming, it’s a great time to be a former 1990s sitcom star.
All six original cast members of Friends will reunite for an unscripted, hourlong special on the upcoming streaming service HBO Max, WarnerMedia announced last week. The special will be available to subscribers—along with all 10 seasons of the comedy—when HBO Max launches in the US in May.
Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer will each receive between $2.5 and $3 million to appear in the special, according to reports from Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Deadline reported the actors could receive up to $4 million apiece for the brief reunion. That’s four times more than what Aniston reportedly receives for each episode of the Apple streaming drama The Morning Show, which is already among the highest salaries in the industry.
The inordinate sums underscore the importance of well-known intellectual property when launching a new streaming platform, as well as the rising costs of proven talent in the competitive streaming landscape.
The reunion will be shot on the iconic Stage 24—the same Warner Bros. set where Friends was filmed. After debuting on NBC in 1994, the sitcom quickly became one of the most popular American TV shows of all time. Long after its 2004 conclusion, Friends was still one of the most-watched series on Netflix. (Warner Bros. Television, the production studio behind Friends, owns the show’s distribution rights, not NBC, and is free to sell them to the highest bidder.)
That’s why WarnerMedia was willing to pay $425 million last year for the show’s exclusive streaming rights for five years. That’s also why the company is shelling out roughly $20 million more for the original cast members to reunite for what amounts to an hourlong hangout session.
In a catalog that will include Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman, and The Lord of the Rings, Friends will arguably be HBO Max’s biggest draw. And in a market where Netflix and Disney (and, soon, NBCUniversal, with Peacock) are competing for your eyeballs, WarnerMedia wanted to make a splash to inform consumers that not only HBO Max exists, but also that it will be the only place where they can stream Friends. The reunion special is a publicity play to launch the Friends library.
Publicity stunts typically aren’t that expensive, but such is the price Hollywood now pays for the services of top performers. The rise of streaming and the never-ending deluge of content in the “peak TV” era is rapidly driving up the costs of talent. Deep-pocketed companies like Netflix, Disney, Apple, and Amazon are more than happy to pay massive sums in order to obtain stars like Aniston.
Some of the talent benefiting most from this are former sitcom stars, as every network and streaming service looks to reboot or reunite the casts of once-loved shows. Netflix rebooted Full House with many of the original cast members. NBCUniversal is rebooting Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster for Peacock. Pretty much everything on Disney+, meanwhile, is based in part on popular franchises
The Friends cast and creators have repeatedly said they’re not interested in an actual reboot series of the sitcom. But as long as the show remains this lucrative, we have not seen the last of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross.